Free Market 101: Improving Patron Experience Drives Changes At Honda Center

The OC Register published this article a few days ago on the changes taking place at The Honda Center in the area of food service and concessions:

The largest improvement project to hit Honda Center in 20 years includes a top-to-bottom overhaul of the arena’s food operations – a makeover that spans everything from new popcorn to rustic communal meals at a members-only dining club.

“We’re turning over a new leaf,” said Joseph “Jo Jo” Doyle, the arena’s new executive chef.  

Doyle, hired from Churchill Downs in Kentucky, is among more than 700 new employees brought on to replace Aramark – a hospitality company believed to have missed the mark with fans when it came to food and service. Aramark was recently dismissed by Angel Stadium.

By bringing the food division in-house, Honda Center CEO Tim Ryan said, the arena is poised to become a world-class facility fit for hosting an NBA team – a longtime goal of Henry and Susan Samueli, who own the company that manages the arena. A key part of the $20 million expansion is the 530-seat Grand Terrace – a members-only restaurant that boasts an expansive balcony with two outdoor bars flanked by fire pits.

Grand Terrace’s 1,000 members pay $400 each season to enter the premium 15,000-square-foot dining space that overlooks Katella Avenue. The menu features “Big Share” rustic dishes like smoked barbecue ribs and bourbon-glazed pork served in large aluminum pans for fans to share. Platters cost $17 to $28. Exhibition food stations include a sushi bar and pizzas made in a “wood stone” oven.

Membership is sold out with a waiting list. Fox Sports will set up a studio on the Tuscany-theme patio for pre- and postgame shows.

“I don’t think there’s anything like this in any other venue in the country,” said Julie Margolin, the arena’s new director of food and beverage.

In the general public sections, Honda Center is adding a Wolfgang Puck restaurant, Pick Up Stix and a Chipotle-style build-your-own burrito concession stand. General seating will feature vendors selling snacks; bagged, flavored popcorn; candies; and beverages during period breaks – something never offered before.

“We see vending as a great opportunity (for fans) to be catered to,” said Margolin, who previously worked at Staples Center and Nokia Theatre.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Anaheim Arena Management values its patrons and wants each experience to be the best possible. As with other businesses, this is driven in part by professional pride and the desire to excel, and by the practical consideration that happy customers are return customers. Patrons who have a positive experience with the food service will spend more. They get better food and service, and The Honda Center makes more money. t’s a win-win. That’s what the free market does. That’s why companies like AAM keep a finger on the pulse of their patrons in order to track what they like and dislike about their experience, and work to fix what isn’t working and do more of what is working.

AAM takes the risk of jettisoning Aramark and bringing food service in-house, and spends $20 million to add a Grand Terrace to The Honda Center because it understands it does’t live in a static business environment, but must improve and innovate in order to increase revenues and hopefully attract an NBA team. “The Honda Center is good enough already” is not a successful long-term mindset.

Of course, if one listens to UNITE-HERE, the OC Labor federation and las pulgitas of the local blogosphere, the only reason Anaheim Arena Management moved to improve customer’s food service experience was to claim Enterprise Zone job tax credits (of which they were unaware they could claim). Tefere Gebre, newly-installed executive vice president of the AFL-CIO, spun that fairy tale in public venues like Anaheim City Council meetings, the Voice of OC writes credulous articles parroting that line, which are zapped out on the AP wire, and that load of baloney soon became the accepted version of events in Sacramento. Ultimately, Assemblyman Tom Daly carried a punitive abomination of a bill that singled out a lone business enterprise — Anaheim Arena Management — as the target for an exercise in arbitrary, banana republic governance.

The Honda Center spends money and takes risks in order to build a better business with an eye on greater competitiveness, profitability and customer experience. UNITE-HERE and its allies expend their effort on creating false narratives in effort to use the coercive power of government to keep Honda Center food service workers paying dues into UNITE-HERE coffers. It says something about the mindset of those governing California that the efforts of the former are punished and the latter rewarded.

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